A century ago this week, Mainers set out to mark Memorial Day as Europe was engulfed in war.

It had been less than a month since German U-boats sank the Lusitania, killing 1,191 of the passengers and crew on board, including 128 Americans.

That would help to push the United States, two years later, into the war. By its end, more than 35,000 sons of Maine would serve. More than 1,026 would not come back.

It was the bloodiest time for Maine since the Civil War, when more than 8,000 service members from this state had died from disease or battlefield wounds.

And Maine has paid a price in every U.S. conflict since — 2,551 dead in World War II, 241 in the Korean War, 343 in Vietnam, and, most recently, 46 service members in the conflicts since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But it is not those numbers we should remember this weekend, amidst the parades and commemorations, and the cookouts, ballgames and yard work.

Instead, we should think about the individuals who make up those totals, and the family members who were forced to move on with only their memories.

Each of those listed among the dead answered a call to service, whether it was to preserve the union and end the tyranny of slavery, stop the spread of fascism across the globe, respond to a deadly and sudden terrorist attack on our own soil, or any of the other missions the military has undertaken on behalf of our safety and freedom.

Whatever the mission, these soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines stepped forward into the breach. They left their hometowns in Maine for places that must have seemed far away, such as Petersburg and Gettysburg, and places that must have seemed like another planet, such as the artillery-torn battlefields of France and Germany, the jungles of Southeast Asia, and the mountains of Afghanistan.

And they died there, young and not-so-young, but all far from the comforts of home and family.

That’s what we mean when we say sacrifice, and that’s what we should remember this Memorial Day weekend.

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